Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Police escort Andrew Wan, a pro-democracy politician who recently resigned from Hong Kong’s legislature, in Hong Kong on Jan. 6, 2021.LAM YIK FEI/The New York Times News Service

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister says the mass arrest of opposition politicians and activists in Hong Kong this week is an “assault on representative democracy” in the former British colony and offers proof that a sweeping new security law is being used as a cudgel against “peaceful political opposition and grassroots electoral politics.”

Hong Kong police arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists Wednesday in the biggest crackdown since China last June imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent. Among those charged is Alvin Yeung, a former Canadian who relinquished his citizenship years ago in order to serve as a public official in Hong Kong.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne condemned the arrests in a statement provided to The Globe and Mail, saying they run contrary to the rights promised to Hong Kongers in the “Basic Law” constitution adopted when the territory was handed over to China in 1997.

“These arrests fundamentally contradict the civil and political rights guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong under the Basic Law,” Mr. Champagne said.

He said the arrests also represent a further breach of the liberties pledged by Beijing in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was to govern affairs in Hong Kong for 50 years after the handover.

“This demonstrates that the national security law is being used as a tool for escalating repression of peaceful political opposition and grassroots electoral politics. The arrests are an assault on representative democracy, the rule of law, and a further erosion of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Mr. Champagne said.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said Canada will work with other countries “to hold authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong to account for breaching the international obligations that commit them to respecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong authorities justified the arrests by pointing to unofficial voting last summer among opposition parties to choose candidates in city elections. They alleged this was part of a plan to “overthrow” the government.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada must move beyond statements of concern. He is calling for Ottawa to follow the United States in enacting sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for the crackdown that began last year. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam, has already complained about how U.S. sanctions have left her without access to banking services and forced her to hoard piles of cash.

The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, adopted by Canada, mirrors similar legislation passed by the U.S. and Britain and imposes sanctions on human rights abusers. It’s also known as a Magnitsky Act, after whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, who was killed in a Russian prison.

“It’s long past time to impose Magnitsky sanctions on those officials responsible for failing to uphold international law. The government’s tepid response has simply emboldened Beijing and Hong Kong officials to go further in their crackdown,” Mr. Chong said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she also wants to see Magnitsky sanctions levied in response.

Canada in November announced a program to attract young Hong Kong migrants who would be economically useful to this country.

Both Ms. Kwan and Mr. Chong say Ottawa must also introduce measures to help provide asylum for Hong Kongers. Many of the dissidents wanting to flee Hong Kong right now would not likely qualify for the new economic migration program, Ms. Kwan said.

The NDP MP also noted that Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s mandate letter asks him to create a “dedicated refugee stream to provide safe haven for human rights advocates and other at-risk people. “Hong Kong fits the bill exactly.”

Several hundred thousand Canadians trace their origins to Hong Kong, and another 300,000 citizens split their time between Canada and Hong Kong.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said people should not underestimate the effect that sanctions would have. “We should be sanctioning Hong Kong officials who are complicit in this, making it clear that they can’t count on a comfy retirement in Vancouver or Toronto.”

Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for pro-democracy Hong Kong organizations in this country, said Canada must find a way for asylum claimants to reach Canada despite COVID-19 flight restrictions. “This recent mass arrest has rounded up (the) majority of pro-democracy figures who remains in Hong Kong. There are very few opposition voices left in Hong Kong who have not been arrested, charged, or jailed.”

With a report from Reuters

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe